Monday, May 18, 2015

Review: Ultimate Spider-Man "Back in Black"

Forget "With great power, there must also come great responsibility." The real nugget of wisdom this show offers is "Remember to vampire sneeze."

The biggest problem with this episode is being fair to it. I've stressed numerous times that every single thing I review gets a fair chance to impress me.  I may regularly facepalm when watching Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., but I'll still give praise to episodes I find myself enjoying, like "Wendigo Apocalypse."

But this is an entirely different beast altogether.

When I rate episodes, I don't do your standard whatever-out-of-ten or percentage of a hundred. And that's because I would inevitably have people repeatedly asking why I rated such-and-such episode above so-and-so. I simply don't think it's fair to compare episodes like that, especially across series.

I bring this up because I find myself in an interesting situation with this episode. This is truly the beginning of the Venom storyline in Ultimate Spider-Man. The symbiote appeared before this, sure, but this is really when the familiar notes of the Venom storyline come into play.

Note what I said there.

"The familiar notes."

Venom is a staggeringly popular character. As such, Venom has been included in nearly every Spider-Man show since the 90's. And I'm just going to come right out and say it. The Spectacular Spider-Man did it best. That's my opinion. If you feel otherwise, more power to you. But in my opinion, that storyline was executed brilliantly in SSM.

Stomach mouth. Argument over.
And so, as I watch this episode, I can't help but compare it to what came before. And that's not fair to this episode. This episode has a lot of good bits, but a lot that pales in comparison to Spectacular Spider-Man.

But there is a saving grace to this episode.

This version of the Venom storyline has to hit some familiar beats, but the writers are taking many liberties with the source material. And in this case, that's a very good thing. Instead of rehashing a tale told several times already, they're trying something different.

According to an interview with Man of Action, having Harry Osborn be Venom was one of the first ideas jotted down for the series. They were aware going into this that their Venom storyline would be compared to what came before. An I must say, it's a breath of fresh air to see this show truly starting to get creative with its premise.

Peter's best friend becomes Venom. This might sound incredibly similar to how SSM handled the Venom plot, but the fact that it's Harry Osborn becoming Venom means that Venom himself has different motivations. And that makes all the difference.

Despite the situation being different, Venom's whole deal is that he's a warped recreation of the webslinger. Here, Spider-Man's very motivation is warped. Peter does what he does as Spider-Man because of the father figure he lost. Harry does what he does to gain the father figure he never had.

The Sandwich Club
I simply don't understand how they can be such idiots when it comes to Venom. The new Spider-Man's too short to be a body-snatching monster? Add to that their unjustified revenge on Spider-Man at the end of the episode, and I really am starting to hate these characters.

Peter Parker
Overcoming adversity is a hallmark of Spider-Man stories. Spider-Man has fought villains with no powers, he's been torn between saving Aunt May and saving the city, and he tries to live off a freelance photographer's wages. So defeating Venom while being sick could have been another example of that classic element.

But in the end, Peter's sniffles seemed like they were only there to provide a tenuous link to Harry's own "illness." And to provide fodder for gross-out humor, of course.

Harry Osborn
I'm simply glad that he's become more than a bland, generic best friend for the hero. The show is delving into his relationship with his dad from a new angle while providing to the overall story arc of the show. And that's a huge step up from what we've been getting. I'm still wondering where he got that wrist device, though.

Norman Osborn
Disappointed in his own son while praising Venom? Oh, the irony.

Again, it's a new angle on the character's relationship with his son while furthering the main story arc.

Dr. Octavius
When he hides the fact that Harry is Venom from Norman, it's pretty clear that he's got some motivations of his own. We'll see what those motivations are down the road.

Pretty standard for the show, though I wanted to point out three things.

1. I liked how Dragon Man was defeated differently each time.

2. I appreciated the visual shout-out to Spider-Man Unlimited's costume device with Harry's wrist thingy.

3. The final Spidey/Venom fight had some uniquely stylized animation for this show, which I don't think has been seen before or since.

Anything that makes this show look interesting is fine by me.
Final Thoughts
This was undeniably a better episode than any of the ones before it.

Would I call it a "good" episode? I don't know.

But it's definitely an improvement.

Is that enough for me to truly enjoy this episode on its own merits? No.

That might surprise you, considering all the praise I just heaped on this episode, but I didn't enjoy it. Even though this episode seemed tailor-made for me at times. It had a Dragon Man appearance, a new twist on the old story, a visually interesting fighting sequence....

A freaking Doop cameo.
And yet, I wouldn't say that I truly liked this episode. And that all comes down to the execution. There are some phenomenal ideas in here, but they're buried under gross sneeze jokes, idiotic supporting characters, and the fact that every time things get tense and interesting, the show has to make some stupid joke to absolutely ruin the moment.

But if you have a higher tolerance for this show's particular style of humor, then you might really like this episode. I may have found it easier to watch than previous episodes, but I don't think I'd ever watch it just for my own enjoyment.

Next time, we're going on a field trip. Maybe then, the dilemma of whether Dragon Man feels like a dragon in a man's body or a man in a dragon's body will finally be answered.

But probably not.
See you then!


  1. Honestly, the thing that will always bother me the most with this show is Venom's pronouns

    1. Ah, yes. I'll address that when I reach "Venomous."

  2. SSM Venom's Gurren Lagann cosplay could use some work.

    Also, when are you gonna review SSM again? That's gotta be my absolute favorite Marvel cartoon.

    - That One Anon

    Dragon Man is all, all is Dragon Man. Never doubt the Dragon Man. Hail Hydra.

    1. It's funny you should ask, I just took a look at my archive of SSM and realized just how long it's been since I've covered an episode. Rest assured, I'll be making up for lost time next month.

  3. I've been kinda thinking, it'd be cool if there was a version of Venom that someone ingested into their body and became a part of them, and when they cut themselves somewhere, Venom would come out if the person was in need of it.

    1. That's kind of like what Carnage was in the 90's. He had his symbiote removed, but was able to generate a new one from his blood. Of course, this plot point was ignored many times.

    2. You just described the relationship between Crona and Ragnarok in Soul Eater